City of Champions

Camgian and UA creating new AI technologies and jobs in Tuscaloosa

By Alana Norris

Two people in a room with a computer
Zach Weske, a computer science
major, recently worked with his UA
peers as co-op students at Camgian,
a company that develops artificial
intelligence-based platforms that
process various sources of data.

Over the past 13 years, Tuscaloosa has grown exponentially with an increasing student population and new businesses locating within the city limits.

Camgian, a Starkville, Mississippi-based company, opened its Center for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Tuscaloosa in January 2019. Michelle Parisi, chief financial officer, said the company liked the proximity to The University of Alabama.

“We specifically wanted a location in a growing, vibrant community with a university close by. Our high technology jobs appeal to younger people looking to make a difference throughout their work careers. We found the community and University leaders very eager to retain talent and grow technology jobs locally,” Parisi said.

Currently, the company is located in The EDGE, a UA facility in partnership with the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce and the city of Tuscaloosa that serves as an incubator supporting entrepreneurship and business startups.

“Its modern, open work spaces are easily configurable for small or large groups, which makes collaboration easy. It’s a professional, comfortable and stimulating work environment.Our team loves the space, the location,and enjoys interacting with the various university and community groups they encounter at The EDGE,” Parisi said.

The company, which has outgrown its current footprint in The EDGE, is preparing to move its Tuscaloosa office into the Regions Bank building in downtown.

“This expansion will provide about 3,500 square feet of office and laboratory space to continue growing our AI-based product offerings and knowledge economy jobs in Alabama,” Parisi said. “The space will comprise a high-tech look and feel and be something that we aim to make a point of pride for the community.”

Camgian is a company that develops artificial intelligence-based platforms that process various sources of data to assist humans in making faster, more informed decisions.

“We innovate in the areas of algorithms,sensors and software, which address fast growing and crucial needs in the financial and national security markets,” Parisi said.

The company offers full time, cooperative education and internship positions to mainly computer science students and graduates. Camgian has 10 full-time and 15 part-time positions in Tuscaloosa.

Zach Weske is a computer science major from Wales, Wisconsin, who worked as a co-op student at Camgian. He met a representative from the company at a career fair and decided it seemed like a good fit for him. Working on a five-person team including a recent UA graduate, Weske said his three-semester co-op was an educational experience.

“I did a lot of software engineering, and I learned a bit about artificial intelligence and machine learning,” he said. “I learned a lot about software engineering, geospatial coordinate systems and calculations, Python,government contracting, docker and containerization.”

He will complete his bachelor’s degree with a cyber security concentration in 2022 and will continue working on his master’s degree through UA’s Accelerated Master’s Program, which allows students to work towards both degrees simultaneously.

“I am passionate about cyber security because it requires a high level of knowledge,experience and deep understanding of computers and systems in order to excel. It combines the best aspects of problem solving and computer science. The artificial intelligence and machine learning work I did at Camgian is also very interesting to me because it revolves around data processing, understanding and leveraging data,” Weske said.

The impact of companies like Camgian establishing in Tuscaloosa is felt at the university, city and state level connecting everything together, he said.

“Camgian has opened doors for research on campus, provided jobs in Tuscaloosa, built community with other businesses at The EDGE,and brought business to the state,” Weske said.“They build relationships that allow for growth and innovation between companies, students,universities and the state.”

Camgian also works closely with UA faculty like Dr. Ken Ricks, electrical and computer engineering associate professor, and helps fund research projects. In a cyclical way, he said the work is mutually beneficial.

“Anytime you get technical companies to establish local offices and work closely with UA, there will be tangible benefits. They are bringing research dollars to campus,which helps us to recruit top graduate students. Then, they also have employment opportunities to offer UA grads,” he said.

One major project UA has worked on with Camgian is a U.S. Department of Defense funded program to progress artificial intelligence technologies for the military,specifically in surveillance and reconnaissance.Additionally, the DOD contract with Camgian is supporting faculty research. In exchange for UA’s help with research, Camgian has worked to review and sponsor senior design projects on campus.

“The nature of the collaboration has been for UA to conduct research — including hardware assessment, AI algorithm and software development —field testing/data collection,and data analysis, which is then periodically reviewed with Camgian so that the results may be consumed and incorporated into the larger program,” Parisi said.

She said the partnership has been a positive experience for all involved. Parisi has been particularly impressed with student presentation skills. Being able to communicate their research in a professional manner will be beneficial to these students as they enter the job market, she said.

“During project status review updates, the students have taken an active role in the presentation of the research work being performed and have demonstrated the ability to communicate technical information to their audience,” Parisi said.

Camgian is also prioritizing community engagement within the company. Before COVID, employees volunteered in local schools by mentoring robotics clubs and judging competitions. Since COVID has paused many in-person events, Camgian engineers constructed an online course to teach teenagers about computer science and artificial intelligence, which they were able to share with more than 100 local students.

“We believe strong partnerships with the community are vital to our success,” Parisi said. “Tuscaloosa has welcomed us at every level and are very proud to give back.”

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s College of Engineering has more than 5,200 students and more than 170 faculty. In recent years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Boren, Mitchell and Truman scholars.

Author: Alana Norris    /    Posted on: May 13, 2021    /    Posted in:   Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Faculty and Staff, Featured, Outreach, Students,    /    Features: